O Immanuel-Gospel-12/22/09

Elohim is something of a generic name for god; it can be used to talk about many other gods than the God of Israel. Each god had his proper name; in the case of Israel, that name was Yahweh.  When Matthew comments on the child described to Joseph by the angel of the Lord, he says that this child is 'with us is God'.  This term is comprised of imm=with; anu=us; el (the short form of Elohim).  Matthew adds this meaning to what the angel had revealed: this child should be called Jesus (=savior) 'because he shall save his people from their sins'.  Matthew wants to introduce Jesus as a Savior who is God Himself.  Thus, the salvation of people will occur, not because a human being will save us, but because God Himself will undergo the sad, humiliating and horrific death on the cross.  With this final O-antiphon we sing of the totally improbable and unsuspected act of God for us.  We are the little ones, but He becomes the little baby to make us great, indeed, to make us like God.  On the other hand, if we can only stretch our selves to know God, we can realize that His self-giving is about as natural as possible, for God is nothing other than Love.  Jesus, adult and child, came to assure us of that unending love.

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The Gospel is the first part of what Luke conceived of as a two-part scene.  First, we would hear of the completion of the words given to Zachary when he was in service in the Temple of Jerusalem, and second, we would hear Zachary's praise and prophecy of what God has done through John and Jesus.  Every male child should, eight days after birth, undergo circumcision, to make him a sure physical inheritor of the promises made to Abraham and his offspring.  Moreover, at this eight day, the child will receive his name.  It is with regard to this naming of this child that we read this Gospel today.  We recall that Zachary had been told by divine order to name his child 'John'; this means that John will be a living revelation, for his name means 'the grace of Yahweh' or 'Yahweh is gracious'.  (John is in Hebrew Johanan, that is Yo=a shortened form for Yahweh and gracious or grace=nathan.)  Zachary made a mistake when he asked Gabriel how he might make sure Gabriel was trustworthy, and so he was silenced till a future moment.  Indeed, as the story unfolds, Zachary remained silent till he fulfilled in writing the order that Garbriel had given him.  This Gospel, then, is one more example of Luke's determination to give, not only a human evaluation of John, but a divine preparation, miracle and gift to Israel.  Luke's reader should have a faith not owed simply to human evaluation, but more thoroughly to divine revelation, a revelation that no one, not even John's father, could accept without reservation or hesitation.  May we understand John's role as a grace to us from the gracious God, and learn from Zachary to trust ever more firmly even if we do not fully understand - for it is God who is our assurance.

John Kilgallen, SJ

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